I Should Not Have Been Able to Do This

In 35mm equivalents, this was a 510 mm lens. Hand held. In a dark theater. Aimed at a moving subject.

In 35mm equivalents, this was a 510mm lens. Hand held. In a dark theater. Aimed at a moving subject.

UCSB Arts & Lectures brings the world’s greatest talent to Santa Barbara. I was given the opportunity to shoot the season-opening event last night: Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue. I was nervous, and rightfully so. I’d never shot in the venue before, and I would have ten minutes, from a fixed position, to wrangle a couple of keepers.

I needed to counter two primary obstacles: First, the distance from back-of-theater to stage was greater than any I’d worked before.

Many of the images are grainy and lack critical sharpness, but work for all the other reasons we love photographs - the sense of moment, color, feeling.

Many of the images are grainy and some lack critical sharpness, but they work for all the other reasons we love photographs – the sense of moment, color, feeling.

I pointed my 70-200 f/2.8 at the stage and could see immediately that I would not get close enough to the performer. Having considered this possibility, I retrieved from my pocket Nikon’s TC-17 teleconverter and attached it between lens and camera. I got a useful extra bit of focal length, but it came with an extra challenging loss of light: my widest aperture was now right around f/5. However well-lit the stage, there was no way I’d get a shutter speed faster than 1/200.

1/200 won't freeze much action, so I tried to time my shots to the beat of the music.

1/200 won’t freeze much action, so I tried to time my shots to the beat of the music.

The slowish shutter speed for a moving performer was compounded by obstacle two: Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue opened the show with such a deep groove that I could not stand still.

Let’s summarize: in my mind, I’m using a compromised, slow lens to photograph a moving subject on an erratically lit stage. While dancing. Yeah, I was nervous.

It worked out just fine. I had to jockey around from my designated spot a few times because, when it comes to my old nemesis the microphone stand, Trombone Shorty performs behind TWO OF THEM. So it goes.

I had to bend my body in unnatural ways to get an angle between the microphone stands.

I had to bend my body in unnatural ways to find an angle between the microphone stands.

I like these shots a lot, and not least because I’m impressed with the previously untested abilities of the gear that helped me make them. Prior to this, I only used the teleconverter for bird photos in good light. I turned to it in desperation last night and it exceeded my expectations by far. Many kudos to Nikon, to the lighting team at the Granada Theater, and thanks again to UCSB Arts & Lectures for inviting me to participate.

PS: The evening included a trombone choir and dancer parade, but we’ll talk about that later.

Trombone Shorty-4674

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